I came to the Shenandoah 100 hungry, fit, and looking for a good result. For two years I'd thought about my 2013 experience, always wanting another shot at this beast of a race. I fixed my sights on a top 15 finish as my goal this year, hoping to redeem my 40th from 2013.
This year's edition of the King NUE race had the fastest field in its 17 year history. Not only did Jeremiah Bishop set a new record, he smashed his previous record by 20 minutes! On top of Bishops dominance, to be in the top twenty this year you had to ride sub a 8:05 race while last year 8:18 would've landed you there. As the most prestigious 100 miler on the east coast, every year sees a even deeper field toe the line, looking for glory.
For 9 months I have been working towards this race. Cameron Cogburn has been analyzing my fitness, and prescribing workouts day in and day out to get me into the best form of my life. I knew he had my legs as ready as they could be, so on race morning, I was only focused on visualizing execution.
The race started fast, as it always does, and I quickly found myself remembering my pacing plan. I obeyed the plan to stay in z3 and no higher, and let the lead group go, watching as many friends rolled up the road, pinning it on the opening stretches of gravel roads. Into the first climb some guys slotted in just in front of me and I found myself climbing with John Petrylak, a great place to be at the start of 100 miles.
Ripping down Narrowback I was with a handful of riders including Jon Gdwoik and Heath Thumel. We worked hard together to get up to the base of the second large climb of the day. I joined up with Nick Bragg and Dan Kotwicki on the climb and we made our way up to the rocky and unforgiving Wolf Ridge. Getting caught behind a slower climber, I lost Bragg by the bottom of Wolf and had to get to work on the long 40 minute road section alone.
The climber in front of me joined up but wasn't interested in contributing to our efforts, so I pulled him to the base of Hankey. I made sure to drop my passenger by the top and ripped the Dowells draft downhill as fast as I dared. Mid way down I passed Ryan Serbel who was having an off day and moments later Aaron Albright passed and gave us a clinic on descending.
The road out to Braileys was fun. I was hammering along as aero as I could get, and Serbel dieseled up to me. I joined him and soon we had Albright for company, catching him up the road. Serbel pulled us most of the way to the next monster climb and on arrival we were all together hitting the first rock gardens. Serbel danced away up the climb and I sat just behind Albright until the incident.
Now, this climb up Braileys is probably the most technical of the day. Rock gardens, lots of roots, steep trail and it's all bench trail, with little room for error. So when I felt the bee fly into my helmet vent, it couldn't have been at a worse time. It stung me good and had me yelling in pain. Stopping, I ripped my helmet off and swatted my enemy away. Now stopped on the steepest part of the trail, starting again was a chore. But after a brief struggle, I was on my way, swelling head and all.
I caught Albright at the peak just in time to watch him descend away from me again. Alone with 13 miles of road ahead of me, I put my head down and got to work solo.
As I made my way out to the Death Climb, I kept turning around expecting to see a train of a few riders coming up to me that I could link up with to share the work. But no one ever came. I resorted to getting aero on the bike again while keeping my heart rate as low as possible.
I reached the Death Climb and immediately saw a rider up ahead of me. I held my pace steady, caught, and dropped him immediately. And once again, I was alone.
Up and up I climbed, watching my motivation waiver significantly with no one in sight, I felt like I wasn't in a race at all, just some incredibly beautiful but lonely wilderness.
Aid five came and rejuvenated me, mainly because of the awesome volunteers there who were so encouraging. Another 5 miles of climbing and I was on cruise control. I had no more snap in my legs. My body was aching all over from over 6 hours of racing and 10k ft of climbing. I pressed on, desperate for the end.
One last technical descent down Chestnut and I was finally within reach. And that's when the switch flipped.
During these long races, I often lose my motivation to compete. It's such a long time to maintain focus that I have to turn it off, ride, and hopefully have something left at the end. But when I hit ten miles to go, the competitiveness turns back on, and I give it everything. That's exactly what I did up the last climb.
I saw Matt Merkel up the climb and his body language looked labored, like he was suffering. I got to work reeling him in, trying to make sure I made the pass decisively before the final descent. I came up to his wheel, upped my pace and motored past as quickly as possible. No response from Matt thankfully, so I backed it off slightly from the gut wrenching pace, to the "I still can't wait to be done this" pace.
Down the final descent, I was flying, crushing my former times from 2013. Seeing the finish line always brings elation and relief.
I rolled in for 22nd overall in 8:10, totally exhausted but happy. While it wasn't what I had hoped for place wise, I had to be content with a 41 minute improvement from 2013. The training had paid off, and my execution had been spot on. I had no mechanical issues all day thanks to a race week tune up by Nate at Joe's Bike Shop. Nutrition had been great with a mashup of various types of Infinit for different segments of the race. And Chris Scott did it again, making another a killer event. Smiles were contagious at the end as we hung around eating and watching people finish for hours. It was a great day, and I can't wait to go back for more.